Polyester, the string choice of almost every single professional tennis player and widely credited with the change in style the game has gone through over the last couple of decades from one where serve and volley players could thrive to one where they are all but extinct.
It took a while for the revolution to begin. Luxilon first produced Big Banger Original in 1991, but it wasn’t until Gustavo Kuerton’s first Roland Garros win in 1997 that people started to sit up and take notice. For a long time it was met with vigorous opposition and there were even calls for it to be banned due to the seemingly unnatural things players could now do to the ball. Even as recently as six years ago it would not be uncommon to see a player using a full bed of natural gut, but those days are now very much behind us.
The characteristics of the string allow players to take long, full, fast swings at the ball without fear of over hitting and would allow them to hit ever increasing amounts of top spin, creating havoc for net players as they were suddenly being forced to pick powerful, dipping shots off their shoelaces or see the ball fly past them at angles that could not have been made before.
The variety of polyester string now dominates any shop display. There are softer polys, firmer polys, textured and shaped and they are generally the type of string that receives the most fanfare and promotion by the brands due to them being able to tie it in with their contracted professional players. Who doesn’t want to be able to hit top spin like Rafael Nadal, for example.
Are polyester strings right for everybody?
The simple answer is no. The truth is, outside of the world’s elite, the vast majority of players will not actually get any benefit from them over a synthetic gut or multifilament.
The two main reasons club or recreational players want to use polyester string is either for added durability or to give them more spin. Whilst these are definite benefits they both come with big caveats.
First, durability. There is no question that polyester strings last longer than any of the other types of string. This is down to them being very stiff and therefore being very hard to move, which results in less friction between the main and cross strings. They often have added coatings to reduce this friction further. The big negative that almost negates the durability is the rapid tension loss that all polyester strings suffer from. After about 6-10 hours of play all tension is lost, effectively meaning playability is lost. What little elasticity was in the string is gone and therefore the player will have to put more effort into their swings to generate the same amount of power as before. On top of that, even less vibration is filtered out which can create injuries. Essentially the added durability is just so that the pro players can get an hour of play out of their racquets before getting a new one out of their bag, not to provide weeks and months worth of play.
The general guideline has always been that the number of times you play a week translates into the number of times a year you should restring your racquet. This is dependent on the number of hours you play on these occasions and also on what type of string you are using. For natural gut you can reduce the number of times you need to restring because if it doesn’t break it holds its tension very well; however this is the opposite for polyester. As an example, if someone is using a multifilament string and breaking it every four months when playing three times a week they are probably better off continuing to use the multi.
One of the biggest issues is spin production. The first thing to make clear is that nothing but your own technique will give you spin, if you hit flat no equipment will change that. Polyester can enhance the amount of spin that you hit with but only if you’re strong enough and produce enough racquet head speed to move the main strings so that they can provide the snap back against the ball. This is something that the vast majority of players are not capable of doing and therefore will not receive any benefit from the poly, if anything it may well have a negative impact on spin production as there will be less string movement than there would be with a softer string.
String tension is another major component to think about when stringing with polyester. The general guideline is to string 10% looser than you would do with a softer string; this is to compensate for the lack of power that the strings provide and also to aid in string movement. The average tension on the professional tours is around 48lbs. This is something to take into account because if the pros have to string that loose to get any benefit from the strings then recreational and club players should probably string lower still.
It should be made very clear that polyester strings are not suitable for juniors, no matter how good they are and how often they are breaking. Due to the stiffness of the strings and the lack of strength of any junior they cause more harm with no benefit. Juniors are already putting a great deal of stress on a developing body by just playing the game. The use of polyester might mean that they don’t restring quite so often but it also means that the player is having to work so much harder to generate the power required to play meaning the muscles become far more fatigued than they need to be. The tension loss element is also huge here because even players that are restringing very frequently are often still going past the playability of the string and that causes even greater problems.
So, in summary, polyester strings can have very big benefits but they have to be used properly and with care. Those benefits are only there to players that are good enough to make the use of them, they will enhance and control what you are capable of doing rather than providing anything to you. It is important to realise that these benefits are also very short lived, to get the best out of them you have to be prepared to restring much more frequently than you would expect.